Panorama of San Francisco
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Eadweard Muybridge (English-born, American photographer, 1830-1904)
“Panorama of San Francisco”
San Francisco: 1877
Albumen prints from glass negatives
11-panel photograph panorama
Size: 13” x 88” framed
The albumen print, also called albumen silver print, was invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and was the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the century, with a peak in 1860-90.
Eadweard Muybridge was a brilliant, eccentric photographer, who gained worldwide fame photographing animal and human movement imperceptible to the human eye.
Muybridge’s given name was Edward James Muggeridge, and he was born at Kingston upon Thames in England. In 1855 Muybridge moved to San Francisco, starting his career as a publisher’s agent and bookseller. He left San Francisco at the end of the 1850s, after receiving severe injuries from a stagecoach accident, and returned to England. He returned to San Francisco, and found rapid success as a photographer focusing on landscape and architectural subjects. At this time he also started using the last name “Muybridge.” His photographs were sold by various photographic entrepreneurs on Montgomery Street, San Francisco's main commercial street at that time.
Muybridge’s reputation as a photographer continued to grow with his photographs focusing on Yosemite and San Francisco. He spent many years working traveling as a successful photographer. In 1868, Muybridge was commissioned to photograph the recent territory of Alaska on a US Army expedition, and in 1871 was selected as the photographer for the High Sierra survey. In 1871 he also married Flora Stone.
In 1872, Leland Stanford, a businessman, race-horse owner and former California governor, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion that they did, called "unsupported transit", and decided to find scientific proof to back his theory. Stanford hired Muybridge to settle the issue. To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture along with the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs. In 1878, Muybridge successfully photographed a horse in fast motion to prove Stanford’s claim using a series of 24 cameras. This series of photographs, taken at what is now Stanford University, is now called The Horse in Motion, and is one of the most popular images in history.
While working on Stanford’s project in 1874, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife,” and fatally shoot the major. Muybridge believed Larkyns to be his son's true father, although, as an adult, he bore a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge. He was put on trial for murder, his defense fees paid by Stanford, but was acquitted as a "justifiable homicide." An interesting aspect of Muybridge's defense was a plea of insanity due to a head injury Muybridge sustained following his stagecoach accident in the 1850s. Friends testified that the accident dramatically changed Muybridge's personality from genial and pleasant to unstable and erratic.
Hoping to capitalize upon the considerable public attention his photographs drew, Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope, which projected the images so the public could see realistic motion. The system was, in many ways, a precursor to the development of the motion picture film. His presentations of his photographs using the Zoopraxiscope in Europe and the United States were widely acclaimed by both the public and specialist audiences of scientists and artists.
Muybridge’s breathtaking 360-degree panorama from California Street hill, taken, it is believed by scholars, between May 23 and June 23 1877 (due to examination of the shadows), and probably on Monday (people are doing their wash). This image is Muybridge’s most famous single work, providing not only one of the best views of the bustling metropolis, but also a wealth of entertainment upon close examination. This picture tells many stories. Visible in striking detail are the mansions of the rich and the dwellings of the poor, the churches, hotels, banks, and other features. Muybridge also produced a mammoth plate panorama of San Francisco, which is excessively rare. The present, smaller version was issued folding, into cloth covers.
Works by Muybridge are in the collections of most major art museums worldwide, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Musée d’Orsay.